Could you take us through a day in your life, from a possible morning routine through to your work? Do you have a fixed schedule? How do music and other aspects of your life feed back into each other - do you separate them or instead try to make them blend seamlessly?
Roxane: In the morning, I wake up very slowly, do some stretching and drink hot tea. Then I need to get some fresh air, to go for a walk to think about the projects in progress, to clean myself, to sweat while cycling. Playing music can come afterwards, concentration is better after all that, when it is dark outside, and until late at night. But to be honest, no two days go the same way. If there is monotony, my work feels the effects.
David: I do not have a morning routine or a fixed schedule for music. I have a day job, which gives me some kind of order. I tend to separate it from the creative aspects of my life. I also have sudden moments of inspiration while I am doing any random chore. When that happens, I stop and take some quick notes and go back to work.
Could you describe your creative process on the basis of a piece or album that's particularly dear to you, please? Where did the ideas come from, how were they transformed in your mind, what did you start with and how do you refine these beginnings into the finished work of art?
David: My creative process is cyclical. I feel like a gardener where the land is my mind and soul, and the fruit trees and flower beds are somewhere in my computer. At home, I am always trying to do something that is related to my art. It can be very uninspiring like classifying files or mindlessly playing some of my instruments. And then, in the midst of a boring and repetitive action, a flash comes, and a new idea appears. It is a new seed. I write it down in a notebook and feel very happy and excited imagining the future result. It is the most exhilarating moment in my creative process. I have many pieces that are dear to me in my collaborative and solo work, but they all come from the cycle I just described. However, there is an exception that deserves to be mentioned. At the end of a long piece of mine called “Sueños sin olvido” there is a piano tune that came to me just after my parents passed away. I remember that I was absentmindedly improvising in my family home in Quito and that melody came to me along with a slight feeling of warmth that slowly rose from my back to my shoulders and then slid down to my hands. It felt strange and wonderful!
Roxane: I go through altered states of consciousness, like a kind of trance. I reach them always intuitively and through improvisation. When I start, either the voice will throw the first jet, or the violin or the flute. It is an initial utterance that is said, and the rest follows, juxtapositions follow with it, then disappear, transform, and come back. Variations matter. It may be that a field recording appears, from my walks in the forest, or from rainy days. It is in this work dynamic that my ideas come: I work the same way in my drawing practice. I have in mind an atmosphere, sensations, a vague landscape, and it is in a very direct way, in the present moment, that the shapes and sounds appear.
There are many descriptions of the ideal state of mind for being creative. What is it like for you? What supports this ideal state of mind and what are distractions? Are there strategies to enter into this state more easily?
Roxane: The best thing is to be disconnected from the rest of the world, no phones or wifi. I like to observe how the music can transform my initial state. Appeasement can result from or even depend on music. I find that in each specific state of mind, the music I would make will differ and I like to experiment with these different possibilities.
David: I had a eureka moment when I decided that I will not try to reach any kind of special state of mind to be creative. The absence of that model gave me a lot of freedom. Before, I believed that I could only make art when I felt deep joy or some sort of concentrated tranquillity. It worked, but it made me feel very anxious and self-critical when I was unable to reach that state. Nowadays, I have an attitude where I do not mind about how I feel or the results and just work on my art. I just have faith in the unseen and unconscious aspects of myself like the bellmaker in Andrei Rublev and just go for it without fear or expectations of any kind.
How is playing live and writing music in the studio connected? What do you achieve and draw from each experience personally? How do you see the relationship between improvisation and composition in this regard?
David: At the beginning, I had a studio-oriented approach to music, because I worked a lot by myself writing and editing narrative electronic pieces. My first live performances relied very much on computers. I felt highly dissatisfied with that and little by little I started playing instruments and focusing on fingerpicking, Indian and Persian traditions. I soon developed a live set up where I combined field recordings with guitar or banjo. This lasted for a few years until my work on the banjo, effects and feedback led me to an even more direct approach to the live performance. My studio work has also evolved and taken another path. I continue my work on narrative and field recordings with ongoing research on bird songs, gong and metallophone music, synthesizers, and vocals. This double way of operating has also largely helped me in my collaborative projects, with Sage Alyte and Éole Cristal, which rely largely on improvisation. My compositions are mostly documentary edits of my improvisatory practice.
Roxane: Each of the two experiences, live or composition work, can highlight the impossibilities or possibilities of one or the other. They come to feed off each other, as if in a kind of game of reflections. For example, when composing, I can bring a richness in sound variations and textures, whereas live, with the violin in hand, I cannot constantly manipulate the effects. This also allows me to develop variations with the instrument itself (and there are many of them) and forces me to consider other components such as silences and breathing, for example. They become full-fledged compositional elements in the live performance. This circular game between live performance and software-based composition becomes an effective way of thinking about the alternatives that certain technological devices could provide and thus of changing the live set-up.
How do you see the relationship between the 'sound' aspects of music and the 'composition' aspects? How do you work with sound and timbre to meet certain production ideas and in which way can certain sounds already take on compositional qualities?
Roxane: The texture of sound, its transformation, influences the progress of my compositions, and is even essential to them. I sculpt the shape of a sound so that listening moves from one dimension to another. It is a kind of sculpture in perpetual movement and change that shapes the story of the piece. Despite the physical reality of the music, in my imagination it is something very ghostly and vaporous, something like a mirage, a vision or a dream. I make it move through fictitious spaces, joining with sounds that are rawer and more known to the ear, such as wind or waves. It mixes with words, animal or human cries, then transforms itself to imitate them, to merge with them. Sound has a very strong power of suggestion, of bringing forth universes full of images in a very spectral way, inserted in the complex structures of time.
David: Most of the time my work consists of two phases, in the first I resort to improvisation, while in the next I deal with editing as a documentary filmmaker would. I studied editing closely when I became interested in Russian and Soviet silent cinema where it was elegantly theorised as an epistemological concept. I keep those references in mind when I make music. I see a parallel between individual sounds and static images on one hand and composition and motion pictures on the other. Each sound interests me to the extent that it allows me to integrate it in a structure. These relationships create new and surprising entities that, as in film, manage to transcend the limits imposed by their material and instil different sensations into the listener, very much like the rhythmic synaesthetic sequences in the films of Fedor Ozep or Sergei Eisenstein.
Our sense of hearing shares intriguing connections to other senses. From your experience, what are some of the most inspiring overlaps between different senses - and what do they tell us about the way our senses work? What happens to sound at its outermost borders?
David: I have always felt an immense pleasure when I discover synaesthetic moments in the works of art I appreciate the most. In fact, in the context of music, when a tune gives you goosebumps, have visions, perceive a scent that was lost in your memory, these moments are the expression of those outermost borders you mention. I came to music through tangential routes, one of these rabbit holes was the work of Felisberto Hernández, an Uruguayan composer, pianist, and a poet in the wildest meaning of the term. I do not know of anyone else that could express the joys of synaesthesia and the interconnections of perception as he did. Felisberto treated every element of his stories as a living being, it does not matter if it is an object, a concept, a colour, a geometrical form… He was inhabited by a radical animism that may recall certain indigenous cultures of my own country, Ecuador, but in the very westernized context of Uruguay. In Por los Tiempos de Clemente Colling, his memoir about his blind composition teacher, there is a scene where Felisberto finds his friend building sculptures with matchsticks in complete darkness. Each one represents a music genre: symphonies, opera, chamber music, etc. And through this tactile exchange, both characters argue about the avant-garde of their time: Stravinsky, Prokofiev, Schoenberg, etc.
Roxane: Music and even sound has a great therapeutic power. As I play, I feel that it opens and relaxes certain compressed parts of the body or brings it into other states. I pay particular attention to the vibrational aspect of sound. It comes to touch our bodies, enter our organs, modify our cells, stimulate our nervous system. Of course, it also has this ability to produce images because it stimulates imagination. So, I also link it very strongly to perception. The perception of distant places, of moments recorded in our memories, of dreams, of imagined scenes.
Art can be a purpose in its own right, but it can also directly feed back into everyday life, take on a social and political role and lead to more engagement. Can you describe your approach to art and being an artist?
Roxane: I associate it with the construction of my identity, with the possibility of feeling free, in tune with myself and growing. In other words, I see it as the possibility of cultivating one’s strength, one's power of action, of reflection. It is also the means to act and dialogue with the outside world. I think that each art is a universe that proposes itself, a world apart that opens possibilities through the stories it tells. It has the power to give a glimpse of an elsewhere. If things are expressed differently it shows how current reality can be transformed.
David: It is impossible to withdraw from politics since art is based on relationships between its material means, creators and the public. How we situate ourselves in that game will always be a pertinent question. Even I, who tend to be very secretive about my work and have the same ego issues as any other artist, believe that art can be a way to muster change through peaceful means. Paraphrasing Buenaventura Durruti, I believe that we must not be afraid of the ruins that capitalism imposes upon us, because as workers and artists we carry in our hearts and minds new ever growing and loving worlds. That’s why I hope to instil to my personal and collaborative works - even if they are abstract - with a utopian quality.
It is remarkable, in a way, that we have arrived in the 21st century with the basic concept of music still intact. Do you have a vision of music, an idea of what music could be beyond its current form?
Roxane: For me, music naturally springs from places and already exists by itself. It produces melodies, through friction of different materials in various forms, like the passage of wind over water, of breath through the vocal cords, the beating of bat wings in a cave. When I play, I sometimes think about those spaces and moments when "natural" phenomena occur. Music moves, comes from far away and makes drawings and follows a path. It is alive, organic, animated.
David: In the XX century music became a Taoist concept: what we call music is not what it is. It is permanently mutating, while remaining unchanged through time. There is a Chinese saying that I like and suits this question: “Predictions are difficult, especially concerning the future”. For my part, I will try to have my hand open and wait for all the birds to land on it and sing or play something with them.